ISTANBUL - The Turkish government on Tuesday escalated its wide-ranging crackdown against people it claims have ties to plotters of last week's attempted coup, as President Barack Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke on the phone for the first time since crisis began.
Officials fired tens of thousands of public employees across the country. The dismissals touched every aspect of government life.
Turkish media, in rapid-fire reports, said the Ministry of Education fired 15,200 people across the country; the Interior Ministry 8,777 employees; and Turkey's Board of Higher Education requested the resignation of 1,577 university deans - akin to dismissing them.
In addition, 257 people working at the office of the prime minister were dismissed and the Directorate of Religious Affairs announced it had sacked 492 staff including clerics, preachers and religious teachers. Turkey's Family and Social Policy Ministry said it dismissed 393 personnel.
The firings come on top of the roughly 9,000 people who have been detained by the government, including security personnel, judges, prosecutors, religious figures and others. Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency said courts have ordered 85 generals and admirals jailed pending trial over their suspected roles in the coup attempt. Dozens of others were still being questioned.
Orhun Gedik, a 22-year-student in Istanbul, protested the new purges, saying politics and education shouldn't mix.
"A government should not decide the hiring and firing," he said. "This government doesn't want to listen to others."
Critics of the government were also targeted for their social media postings. At least two people were reportedly arrested for insulting Erdogan on social media, while one also praised the coup.
The violence surrounding the Friday night coup attempt claimed the lives of 208 government supporters and 24 coup plotters, according to the government. Turkey says Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric, was behind the coup and has demanded his extradition. Gulen, who was profiled by "60 Minutes" in 2012, has denied any knowledge.
Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Erdogan, blamed a "Gulenist clique within the Turkish army" for the attempted coup.
"There will be legal evidence collected in this investigation and we will present all of this to the Americans as part of our extradition request," he said.
"On the grounds of suspicion, he can be easily extradited. We would like to see cooperation from the U.S. authorities on this issue.
President Barack Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed Gulen's status during a telephone call.
Apart from the conversation Tuesday, Turkey provided the U.S. government with documents that were being reviewed to determine whether it amounted to a formal extradition request for Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania.
In a statement, the White House said Mr. Obama "urged that the investigations and prosecution of the coup's perpetrators be conducted in ways that reinforce public confidence in democratic institutions and the rule of law."
Anadolu Agency said Tuesday those formally arrested include former air force commander Gen. Akin Ozturk, alleged to be the ringleader of the July 15 uprising, and Gen. Adem Hududi, commander of Turkey's 2nd Army, which is in charge of countering possible threats to Turkey from Syria, Iran and Iraq.
Ozturk has denied the allegation, saying he neither planned nor directed the failed military coup, according to the Anadolu Agency.
The agency said Erdogan's Air Force adviser, Lt. Col. Erkan Kivrak, had been detained at a hotel where he was vacationing in Turkey's southern province of Antalya. No reason was given for the detention.
A thousand pro-government demonstrators gathered for a rally in Istanbul Tuesday, waving flags and chanting slogans and songs praising President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The demonstrators amassed in the conservative district of Fatih and demanded the death penalty for those responsible for the failed coup.
"We are not leaving these squares," said Durhan Yilmiz, an Istanbul municipality worker. "(The) Turkish flag cannot be lowered."
Pro-democracy meetings and rallies have been held in all of the major cities of Turkey.
In a bid to calm markets roiled by the coup attempt, Turkey's central bank cut a key interest rate Tuesday to shore up liquidity in the economy. The bank's Monetary Policy Committee said it has reduced its overnight marginal funding rate from 9 percent to 8.75 percent.
Erdogan, meanwhile, made a series of televised appearances in which he disclosed dramatic details of his survival on the night of a failed coup and raised the specter of reintroducing the death penalty to punish conspirators.
He told U.S. broadcaster CNN that he narrowly escaped death after coup plotters stormed the resort town of Marmaris where he was vacationing.
"Had I stayed 10, 15 additional minutes, I would have been killed or I would have been taken," he said in the interview late Monday.
The president and other officials have strongly suggested the government is considering reinstating the death penalty, a practice abolished in 2004 as part of Turkey's bid to join the European Union. Several European officials have said such a move would be the end of Turkey's attempts to join.
Addressing hundreds of supporters outside his Istanbul residence early Tuesday, Erdogan responded to calls for the reintroduction of the death penalty with the simple statement: "You cannot put aside the people's demands."
"In a country where our youths are killed with tanks and bombs, if we stay silent, as political people we will be held responsible in the afterlife," Erdogan said, pointing out that capital punishment exists around the world, including in the United States and China.
Turkey's deputy prime minister said dossiers containing details of Gulen's activities have been sent to the U.S. Numan Kurtulmus would not provide details about the files but said they include the past actions of the group that Gulen leads. They may also include new evidence that has emerged from the current investigation. Kurtulmus said an extradition request will follow.
Speaking to parliament, the chairman of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party, Devlet Bahceli, said his party would back legislation to reintroduce the death penalty if it was put forward by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
"If the AKP is ready, we are in for the death penalty," Bahceli said.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, meanwhile, reflected the triumphant mood of authorities. He said the July 15 victory over the plotters was "epic" and that no coup in the history of Turkey had been as brutal as the one that this government survived.
"The force of the tanks could not beat the force of the people," he said.
Yildirim also lashed out at Europe, whose leaders have expressed concerns over the purges underway across Turkey's key state institutions.
"We thank our European friends for their support against the coup, however their sentences starting with 'but' did not please us at all," he said.